1000s of Indonesians protest religious bigotry, urge unity

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Thousands of Indonesians have poured onto the streets of the capital to voice their concerns about racial and religious intolerance and call for unity among citizens of the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian state.

Religious leaders, lawmakers, members of human rights groups and others were among those taking part at the demonstration in central Jakarta on Saturday.

Some protesters dressed in red and white shirts carried posters bearing the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, meaning ‘unity in diversity.’

Other participants at Saturday’s event also performed traditional dances.

“This is about diversity, but also about unity. We have to separate politics from ethnicity, religion, and race,” said 25-year-old protester Iwan Saputra, adding, “I want Indonesia to stay united.”

Saidiman Ahmad, an activist with Liberal Islam Network, also said, “The economy is growing, infrastructure is being built everywhere. Don’t let this all be destroyed just because of ego.”

The rally came a few days after Indonesian police named Jakarta’s governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a suspect in a blasphemy case brought by the Islamic Defenders Front.

The ethnic Chinese and Christian has been accused of insulting Islam by bringing up a verse from the holy book of Qur’an during a campaign visit to the Thousand Islands in September and claiming that the verse bars Muslims from voting for non-Muslims.

The remarks sparked a mass protest earlier this month, which left one person dead and dozens more injured. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.

Although the governor apologized for his comments, he could face a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty under Indonesia’s 1965 blasphemy law.

Indonesia, with a population of almost 250 million, has several minority groups and recognizes six religions. 

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